Today social media giant Facebook blocked Australian media sites from sharing news stories; however, ACT Health and ACT Government sites were also blocked from view this morning.
Both Facebook pages have been used to share crucial public health updates with links to Government websites, including information about COVID-19 testing, outbreaks and border closures.
Canberra’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) Facebook page is also obstructed.
Nationally, SA Health and Queensland Health had Facebook pages heavily restricted.
The Victoria Department of Health, NSW Health, Department of Health Tasmania, Healthy WA and NT Health Facebook pages were still fully functional as at 9.40am today.
An ACT Health Directorate spokesperson told Canberra Weekly the ACT Government account was verified by Facebook, and the tech giant has been contacted to rectify the situation.
“The ACT Health Facebook page in particular is an important channel for distributing information about the COVID-19 situation,” the spokesperson said.
“While we’re looking into this issue we ask Canberrans to visit the COVID-19 website.”
A spokesperson from Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith’s office said the ACT Government was aware of the issue across most directorate Facebook pages, including the ACT Health Facebook page.
“The ACT Government is looking at the issue now,” she said.
While ACT Health and other directorate Facebook sites are blocked, ACT Government will rely on local media to share public announcements with the community via other platforms.
“If ACT Health need to provide information to Canberrans, we will update the COVID-19 website and provide our local media outlets with information,” the spokesperson for Ms Stephen-Smith said.
Facebook Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton released a statement yesterday, 17 February, and said the move to block Australian sites will “restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content”.
Facebook pages belonging to Canberra Weekly, Canberra Times and ABC Canberra have also been restricted.
The obstruction comes after Australia proposed a new Media Bargaining law, which would require Facebook to pay news outlets for content.
Mr Easton said the proposed law “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between Facebook and publishers who use it to share news content.
“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia,” he said.
“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
Swinburne University of Technology expert in media and communications, Dr Belinda Barnet said: “Removing the main supply of current and fact-checked information from Facebook will increase the percentage of misinformation. They would know this.”
Public Interest Journalism Initiative Chair Allan Fels said limiting access to Australian Government information is “unconscionable”, and urged Facebook to be cautious.
“This is not ‘news’, nor content envisaged under the Mandatory News Media Bargaining Code,” said Professor Fels.
As at 12.45pm today, ACT Government and ACT Health Facebook pages appeared to be back in operation. Pages for DVCS, Cancer Council ACT and Advocacy for Inclusion, among others, are still obstructed.
For all COVID related information, Canberrans should visit www.COVID19.act.gov.au.
- Libby Kimber and Rosa Ritchie
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